Graveyard tourism

I've been running a lot. Running in New York is like playing Frogger, except instead of splattering you on the pavement, people usually just honk or give you the finger. Ah, New York.

To escape the video game, I've started running through the seemingly infinite cemeteries of Highland Park, which is the only park within (reasonable) running distance of where I live. There are dozens of sub-cemeteries, and they're all fenced off from each other, so I often get stuck.

Not long ago, I got stuck in a Jewish cemetery that, by American cemetery standards, was packed to the gills. Is that rude to say about a cemetery? Whatever–I'm sure my many irreverent Jewish ancestors would understand. The density of the gravestones lent the place a certain je ne sais quoi, a palpable presence of the dead. The stones were so close that I couldn't abstract what I was seeing into "a cemetery"–it was, undeniably, the last resting place of thousands of individuals, individuals who'd lived real lives and had real families and real emotions. About 54,000 individuals, in fact, according to the cemetery's website.

There's something oddly sickening about seeing "beloved mother, wife, daughter" on dozens of graves within a couple hundred yards of each other. It feels like the LinkedIn auto-response of death. Decades of love, loss, effort, and all the other infinite facets of life, ground down to the same few words.

There's something sickening, too, about a cemetery with a view of the Manhattan skyline. I'm sure most of these graves hardly see a visitor, and to be forgotten within a stone's throw of millions of people is surely more heart-wrenching than to be forgotten, say, in a tiny birch grove down a dirt road outside a town of 500 people. It's like how being lonely in a crowd is worse than being lonely in the wilderness–except you're also dead. Maybe that's better? I don't know.

I sat under a sycamore tree and stayed there, crying silently, for a while. I wished for nothing so much as that the people who laid here were happy in life. Imagining that many lifetimes of hardship was incomprehensible. When my eyes ran dry, my feet ran me out of the cemetery, back into the video game.